Marathoners often cite “runner’s high” as one of the main reasons why they go the distance. Add to that companionship, and you have a headier mix. Monica Chib, senior consultant, psychiatry, at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi, says the body releases endorphins—happy hormones—when you exercise, and when couples experience this together, it brings greater joy. Four couples tell us why, despite the hard work, running together gives them a high.
For Mumbai-based Roshini and Hemant Bakshi, the chase probably began at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). Bakshi, 47, now literally trails behind his wife Roshini, 44, the better runner of the two.
Roshini is the managing director, consumer business, The Walt Disney Co (India) Pvt. Ltd, and Hemant is executive director, home and personal care, Hindustan Unilever Ltd. Together, they are the power couple of long-distance running.
Having graduated from the 1989 batch of IIM-A along with his wife, Hemant, a lifer at India’s largest consumer personal goods company, admits “she beats the hell out of me”.
To be fair, Hemant took to running only reluctantly, as a form of fitness to replace squash five years ago. He now runs the half marathon. Roshini, a runner since college, has been participating in the Mumbai Marathon ever since it started in 2004. She is now also training for a triathlon and hopes to participate in her first triathlon next year.
“He uses me as an excuse to leave early from parties,” says Roshini, laughing, while explaining that the downside of running long distance is that they have become social outcasts. Even on Saturday nights, they get home from parties by 10, because Sunday is reserved for a long run. Roshini is up at 4am and is out of the house by 4.45.
On the upside, the advantage of running is that it can be done anywhere.
“You just need your shoes with you,” says Hemant, who enjoys listening to classic rock like U2, Police, Jethro Tull and Dire Straits while running.
In the last three years, as Hemant has become more serious about running, the couple have also started planning their vacations around running.
“It is an interesting way to see a city, meet people and do short holidays as well,” says Hemant who likes to look for exotic marathons taking place globally.
So far, they have been to Norway for the Midnight Sun Marathon at Tromso, a trail on which the sun does not set; they have run through the old city of Prague; and earlier this year, they did the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa. Next on the list is Tuscany, Italy, in April.
For the high-flying executives, running marathons has also helped them at work. “As I plan to run my marathon, I also plan my work,” says Roshini, who takes a step-by-step approach, sets goals and follows the logic of every mile having a certain set speed.
To the ends of the earth
It’s hard enough to run a marathon. Now imagine running through a landscape where you could break the surface with a misstep and where your eyelashes are crusted shut with ice. How then do you complete the race? By leaning on the shoulder of your partner, of course.
Hyderabad-based Uma and Krishna Prasad Chigurupati have bitter-sweet memories of their April 2011 UVU North Pole Marathon. It was minus 34 degrees Celsius, much lower than the minus 17 degrees Celsius they had braved during the Antarctic Ice Marathon just four months prior. That year, the first time their pilot attempted landing at the North Pole, he was asked to turn back to base. There was a huge crack in the surface, and landing could have split the ice.
When the race finally began, in comparatively clement weather, Uma had trouble even seeing the trail. The 52-year-old director of wine maker KRSMA Estates Pvt. Ltd soon found herself running out of both energy and patience. The cold winds made her eyes water, and the water froze on her eyelashes. The surface of the ice was riddled with cracks, and they were never really sure how deep the cracks ran or if it was safe to step on them.
“There was no visibility at all. I told Krishna, ‘Without you, I don’t think I will be able to run. If you leave me and go, I am totally blind’,” Uma said that day two years ago. That year, all 27 people who signed up completed the marathon. Uma and Krishna Prasad came in at 21st place, finishing the race in about 9 hours.
There were other races they finished arm in arm. On a hot June day in 2010, the couple were participating in the Safaricom Marathon, which runs through the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy game park in Kenya, and Krishna Prasad began to get dehydrated and develop cramps. “Even though we run separately, we don’t run too far apart,” says Krishna Prasad. “We keep seeing each other and seeing how we are each doing,” he adds.
In Kenya, Uma saw that her husband might need her help. So she completed her half marathon, and ran back 10km to meet him. “The last 2km I had to literally crawl and she was supporting me,” remembers Krishna, the 58-year-old managing director of pharmaceuticals company Granules India Ltd.
The Chigurupatis’ long-distance journey began in 2003. The Hyderabad 10K Run Foundation was organizing a race that year, and had approached Krishna Prasad for sponsorship. The couple not only made a monetary contribution, they also sent over 100 employees of Granules India to participate in the run. They began practising in a nearby park to motivate the employees. On race day, they too ran the scenic 10km circuit. Krishna Prasad says, “Running for 10km for the first time in our lives is what made all the difference.”
In 2011, the couple entered the Marathon Grand Slam Club of people who have completed runs on all seven continents as well as at the North Pole. Twenty-five marathons later, Uma and Krishna Prasad are still nowhere close to hanging up their running boots.
What keeps them going is the high of running and each other’s company. They are slightly competitive, and Uma often wonders why Krishna Prasad often finishes ahead of her in races though she does better in training.
“Running together give us a lot of pleasure and it’s a sort of bonding,” Krishna Prasad says, “We challenge each other.”
It’s a date
Rishikesh Basu, 42, and Amrita Mitra, 33, too vouch for this special bond.
Basu first met Mitra in a gym in Bangalore eight years ago. In-between strength training and cardio sessions, they began talking. One thing led to another, and they discovered they both wanted to start training as runners. They made a plan, and one morning, just like that, they began their first ever run together. Soon, they started seeing each other and then decided to get married in 2010. All this while, running continued to be an important part of their routine. “At 5am on the morning after our wedding, we went for a 20km run with four of our running buddies who had come to Kolkata (for the ceremony),” says Mitra.
Basu and Mitra have collected many fond memories together on the race track. Like when they finished their first Bangalore Ultra Marathon together in 5 hours, 35 minutes. They were placed a joint fifth overall and Mitra came in first among the women that year. “Also our first Mumbai Marathon, we finished together at 4 hours, 22 minutes,” Mitra says.
Now, more than eight years, 18 marathons and a baby later, Mitra says she loves that her husband too is a running enthusiast. It helped her take the call to continue running even during her pregnancy. Basu supported her decision all the way, and Mitra went running till the day their daughter was born. Basu would run beside her to make sure she didn’t fall or want for anything.
“He shortened his run, changed his pace and ran with me. He also didn’t go for the regular marathons outstation to be with me and run with me,” says Mitra, who was also reading the Runner’s World Guide to Running and Pregnancy by Chris Lundgren at this time.
In this time, Basu ran 27 marathons, including five ultras. He also started the BHUKMP running group. BHUKMP is an acronym for Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ultra, Kaveri (Trail Marathon), Mumbai and Puducherry—all races that Basu, head of India operations at technology company Accelera Mobile Broadband, has been a regular at in the last eight years.
But it hasn’t been a cakewalk. Mitra and Basu have made several changes in their lives to accommodate running along the way. “A runner’s party ends at 10pm,” says Mitra. All their Saturday mornings are spent running 30km with other members of BHUKMP. Mitra, a dentist, adds that all vacations too have turned into running holidays. For the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon on 25 August, Mitra took her daughter and mother along. Before and after the race on Sunday, they got a chance to spend some family time together.
Running couples may take different personal journeys to get to the start line. In some cases, both partners may decide to just go for it, in others, one partner has a go first and then eggs the other to try it out. But in the end, most couples have found that the activity has brought them closer.
In the last six years, Ridhima Suri has twice taken up running to overcome loneliness and boredom, and motivated her husband of four years to get running too.
In 2007, Suri had just returned to Delhi after spending four years in Bangalore. She found that most of her friends had left the city. Most days, she was just bored. She took to running 5km or so every day after work. Her father was in the army, and the Delhi Cantonment, where she then lived, had great paths for running. She also signed up for the Vodafone Delhi Half Marathon on a whim that year, and completed it. “At the time, I did not even know what it meant to run a half marathon. I struggled to the finish line,” she says.
A year later, she moved to Chennai for a master’s degree in business administration, and made a “socially driven” decision to join the Chennai Runners group. She thought it would be a great way to meet like-minded people. She has since run marathons in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore and Auroville.
Last year, she was able to convince her husband, Hari Hara Sutan, to run in his first half marathon in Chennai. “I was originally a gym rat and did not know the joys of running. Ridhima gave me the initial push,” says Sutan, 29, a senior business analyst with technology company Cognizant.
“For a long time, Hari used to come and pick me up at the finish and I am sure some of that energy rubbed off on him,” she beams. “He has always been fitness-conscious, so I guess it was a natural progression,” adds Suri, 29, a business analyst with Wipro.
Sutan is now training for his first marathon, the Wipro Chennai Marathon, scheduled for 1 December. Suri, as a member of the organizing Chennai Runners group, will sit this one out, but she is helping Sutan train for his first 42km-run. While Sutan claims Suri “has the right mix of inspiring, pushing and nagging tendencies” that always help him cross the finish line, Suri finds that Sutan’s “focus and clarity” help her give her best too. Besides, Sutan says, there’s never any fear of missing the 4.30am wake-up call to go out running. “She is a human clock without a snooze button,” he jokes.
Suri and Sutan often fend jibes from friends when they bow out of parties at 11pm.
Training to run long distances requires you to make sacrifices like leaving parties early; waking up before the crack of dawn on most days to hit the tarmac; training hard, often six days a week. When you sign up for something like that, it helps to have someone beside you. At the finish line, all the weeks and months of preparation seem worth the effort.